Did Donald Trump Plagiarize a Joke from Jay Leno?

David de Sola
2 min readOct 21, 2016


One of Donald Trump’s jokes at the Al Smith Dinner last night was at Hillary Clinton’s expense:

From the transcript:

And even tonight, with all of the heated back and forth, between my opponent and me at the debate last night, we have proven that we can actually be civil to each other. In fact, just before taking the dais, Hillary accidentally bumped into me and she very civilly said, “Pardon me.”


And I very politely replied, “Let me talk to you about that after I get into office.”

The joke bears a remarkable similarity to a joke Jay Leno made about then-White House aide Scooter Libby back in 2005. According to a transcript from ABC News:

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Leno: “Hey Kev.”

Kevin: “What’s up, Jay?”

Leno: “What did “Scooter” Libby say when he bumped into President Bush at the White House?”

Kevin: “What’s that?”

Leno: “Pardon me.”

New York Times reporter Alex Burns pointed out the similarities between Trump’s “pardon me” joke and a joke about Richard Nixon on an episode of 30 Rock.

This would not be the first time that the Trump campaign has been involved in a potential plagiarism controversy. Melania Trump’s speech during the Republican National Convention in July was found to have included phrases from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. In that case, a junior aide named Meredith McIver took responsibility for the offending passages remaining in the speech. According to Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray, citing a senior Trump source, Trump wrote the speech himself. It should also be pointed out that another one of Donald Trump’s jokes at the dinner was about his wife’s plagiarism scandal:

UPDATE: The plagiarism joke may have been plagiarized as well. Nikki Finke points out the similarity to the language from a Roll Call cartoon from last summer about the Melania Trump plagiarism controversy.